While Supergirl espouses a message of hope – even in this dark fourth season – Arrow and Flash have struggled with their darkness. Oliver growls, Barry hems and haws. The first of three parts of the Arrowverse’s 2018 crossover, Elseworlds, debuted on Sunday night, and it threw all of that out the door.
Prepare for spoilers right below this nice picture of famed Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.
In the opening moments of Elseworlds, something is amiss. Dr. John Deegan sees people walk out of his lecture after he drops the word “eugenics.” Frustrated, he stomps around outside until a strange man appears to him and gives him a giant tome that lights up like the inside of the briefcase from Pulp Fiction.
Oliver wakes up in Barry’s apartment, with Barry’s wife. And super speed. Because he’s Barry Allen, the fastest man alive. Meanwhile, Barry is going hand-to-hand with expert combatant John Diggle and holding his own – because he’s Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. Deegan is rewriting reality, though our heroes don’t know it just yet.
Something is up, and both of them know it, but only they know it.
This premise gives the writers of these shows a chance to put these characters in each others’ shoes quite literally, forcing them to behave and think like each other. It makes for one of the funniest episodes of either show in a long time, putting both actors’ charisma on display without any of the baggage of their characters.
One of the first moments comes after Team Flash locks the power-swapped heroes in the Star Labs secret prison. Barry has the joints and training necessary to dislocate his thumb and break out of handcuffs, but not the stomach for it. After Oliver pisses him off enough, he finally manages it, but his thumb hangs limply off his hand and Oliver laughs. He’s not smiling serenely, or looking relieved – he’s laughing. I’m not sure if he’s ever done that on any of these shows.
The pair break out and make their way to Earth-38, where Kara is hanging out on Kent Farm – the one from Smallville – with her cousin Clark and the one and only Lois Lane. Kara immediately identifies the pair as Barry and Oliver – not Oliver and Barry – much to their relief. Earth One is undergoing changes, but Earth-38 has yet to be affected.
Safe from whatever’s affecting Earth One and with some space to figure things out, our heroes talk things out with Kara and Clark, but not before a training session that acts as a flashback and a beautiful bit of revenge.
Archer-Barry fires an arrow for Speedster-Ollie to catch. As Oliver grins with the arrow on his hand, two remote crossbows pop out of the grass and bury arrows in Oliver’s back. It would be a killing blow if he was human, but it gives Barry a one-time chance to give Oliver some comeuppance for his brutal training methods.
Little moments like these are littered throughout the episode. Oliver has to channel Barry to get the most of his speed, and Barry has to get angry to play the part of a vengeance-fueled archer. It’s a rare chance for the actors to play a totally different tone. Both shows get too dark, too often, even when the actors promise things are going to get brighter. And for once, they did get brighter.
The final moments give us our first look at Batwoman and seem to place her firmly on Earth One – at least in this particular timeline.
The teams behind these shows were left with big superboots to fill after last year’s Crisis on Earth-X, which was a monumental task of logic and planning for the four shows, and this first episode tells me they’re up to it. It sets a great tone for the second and third acts of Elseworlds and has me eager to sit down tonight to see where Batwoman takes things.